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Some best practices for online legal practice and training

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SOME GOOD PRACTICES
FOR ONLINE LEGAL PRACTICE AND TRAINING

1. Take the time to learn the technology.

  • A great resource:
    Engaging Virtual Meetingsby John Chen:
  • We can no longer be satisfied with being virtual beginners.
  • Play around with your platform settings of all kinds and be comfortable enough to calmly explain to colleagues, clients, students, interns, etc. how to do things like:
    • Enable and disable video, improve appearance, use virtual background.
    • Mute and mute the sound or adjust the microphone volume.
    • Change the microphone and/or speaker source.
    • Use the chat function, including attaching files.
    • Use interactive features like clapping, raising hands, etc.
    • Set up and use breakout rooms.
    • Share your screen, including optimizing sound and video when sharing.
    • Use captioning.
    • Switch between views and/or hide personal view.
    • Rename yourself and rename others.

2. Personalize your appointments with your clients, even online.

  • Mask your own view to make a meeting with a client more natural. It gets you to really focus your own eyes on the camera instead of continually watching the video of yourself where you’re distracted by out of place hairs, 37 chins, etc.
  • Pay attention to your own past. Don’t have your bed in the background or piles of laundry etc. If you don’t have a professional location behind you, use a virtual background instead.
  • Have a relationship-building formula or pre-determined agenda for your online meetings:
    • Initial Consultation – 1) Client History, 2) Basic Legal Process, 3) Representation Options
    • Subsequent meeting with the client – ​​Inform the client of the purpose(s) of the meeting at the beginning, i.e. “Today our goal is to get your Financial Disclosure Affidavit. Anything else you think we need to cover while we’re together today? Then ride accordingly.

3. For mediation (especially caucus-style with lawyers present):

  • Circulate fillable PDF forms to complete and sign prior to mediation, along with Zoom (or other platform) invitation and payment expectations. Depending on the style and preferences of the mediator, ask for any preliminary information you want or need.
  • Use your waiting room!!!
  • Let the lawyers come in first so you can figure out which party to work with first and get any other useful information before you start.
  • Open breakout rooms and move lawyers to their rooms.
  • Let a party in, greet them, briefly explain the logistics, and move into the breakout room with the respective attorney. Then let the next party in and repeat.
  • ASK ABOUT THE PRESENCE OF OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE PRESENT WITH OFF-SCREEN PARTIES – THIS AFFECTS CONFIDENTIALITY AND SOMETIMES THE INTEGRITY OF THE PROCESS.
  • Keep your main session open so you can use this virtual space when needed to take a bathroom break, offline with lawyers if needed, etc.
  • Use broadcast tools to breakout rooms, etc., if and when you need them.

4. For meetings & training:

  • Avoid Zoom bombers etc. by NOT posting the meeting link online where any member of the public can grab it and access your session.
  • Use your waiting room – open it early and let people into the session one at a time so you can greet each person as you enter as you would in person.
  • Designate an “air traffic controller” (see John Chen’s book referenced above). This person will handle all the technical aspects of the meeting, such as letting people in from the waiting room, using breakout rooms, calling attendees to make sure people aren’t trying to talk at the same time (which a virtual platform cannot handle), monitor real or virtual raised hands, monitor the chat box for comments and questions, etc.
    • If you are presenting or training in pairs, the air traffic controller role can be swapped between presenters or trainers.

5. Invest in the right technology tools.

  • Support – If you’re using a laptop, buy yourself a stand so your online viewers don’t stare at you. Everyone in our company uses this one (we’ve even sent a few to co-workers as gifts), which is lightweight, comes with a drawstring, and is super easy to carry around with you:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07Y2PWY1X/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o 09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
  • Light – A ring light is inexpensive and helps you put your own face forward. (And pay attention to your other light sources – light in front and/or to the side of your face, never behind you.) I won’t say this one is the absolute best quality, but it certainly gets the job done:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07QJXCB28/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1
  • Microphone – I searched high and low for a microphone that sounds really good, especially when multiple people are connected in the meeting or training or during a panel or demo from my own space with multiple people involved. Just recently (finally!) found one that works after borrowing a microphone from a friend who does podcasts. The Blue Yeti is my new best microphone friend for virtual meetings and trainings:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00N1YPXW2/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_titl e_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

6. Practice in advance and be interactive.

  • If you’re going to be hosting a meeting, panel, training, role play, anything with multiple people in the room, set things up at least a full day in advance and try them out to make sure everything will work as expected from camera angles and lighting to microphone and speaker etc.
  • Use your office mates, friends, neighbors, family, or colleagues to quickly practice your technology. You don’t want to waste valuable time when you’re live with people waiting for you to discover your own technology.
  • Don’t skip important interactive aspects of trainings such as the role plays of mediation training just because a training is taking place virtually. Use random breakout rooms for mediation role plays. This helps your interns gain full experience AND ALSO familiarizes them with the use of technology in their mediation work. Ditto for collaborative and unbundled training.
  • Engage your audience as much as possible. Encourage them to keep their cameras on and participate (unless you’re giving a demo, in which case you might find it effective to intentionally turn off the cameras of everyone other than those doing the demo, etc.). If you’re teaching on a screen full of black boxes, your audience isn’t engaged. Use activities and games designed to keep your attendees interested and active.
  • Take frequent screen breaks. We usually give one every hour on the hour even if it’s only for a few minutes. Too much screen time kinda blurs the brain and is hard on the eyes. Be courteous to your attendees by giving them intentional breaks fairly frequently.

7. Unbundled Legal Services.

  • Virtual services are IDEAL for an unbundled legal services practice. At The Law Shop, we were already using Zoom before “COVID” was spoken by anyone. Because we are one of the only firms in our state to offer many legal services on an unbundled basis, we serve clients from a much larger geographic area than other firms. It just made sense to have a virtual option for clients who didn’t want to drive multiple hours to meet with us about their legal issues.
  • We use visual aids to help explain the range of services available to all customers during store reviews (initial consultations). These are great for enhancing customer understanding and can be easily referenced when screen sharing in a virtual session.
  • Have a digital welcome/admission packet (or instructions to a web portal) to email the client after an initial consultation.
  • Have online payment options.
  • Use email templates.
  • Have an interactive and interesting website and keep your content up to date.
  • Set casework standards and use them in conjunction with technology to make your practice as efficient as possible for your firm and your clients!

AJ Skogerson is a lawyer, mediator, educator and consultant. She has 17 years of experience working with clients and colleagues in many functions as well as extensive involvement with a variety of professional organizations. AJ’s practice style is calm, caring, organized and direct. His entrepreneurial experience and collaborative practice of family law has inspired his now fully unbundled law practice, which is uniquely designed to help people from all socio-economic backgrounds navigate the legal system while continuing to maintain a happy and profitable law firm. AJ is a strong believer in promoting access to justice and assisting overburdened court systems, but she is also passionate about using unbundled legal services as an effective way to improve lawyer well-being. .